February 06, 2008

Super Tuesday

After the American Century, voting statistics updated 11:30 PM

For the Republicans, McCain was the winner on Super Tuesday. For the Democrats, there was no victor, but the results suggest Obama may be a stronger candidate than Clinton.

On the Republican side, McCain won the most delegates, but he did not win a majority of the states. Huckabee won all the Southern primaries yesterday (Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia), and no doubt he would be president of the Confederacy, had the Union not won the Civil War. To the North, reports of Mitt Romney's political death seem to have been announced prematurely. He won a number of western states, not just Massachusetts and Mormon Utah. Bishop Romney also took Colorado and three states along the Canadian border, Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota. With seven states in all, Romney kept himself in the race, especially considering that California, unlike most of the other Republican contests, is not a winner-take-all state.

Nevertheless, the Romney camp is a bit unhappy today, first because they know that McCain is far ahead in the only area that really matters: delegates. Second, because McCain and Huckabee ganged up on Romney in West Virginia in the caucus there. When the early ballot was inconclusive, McCain told his supporters to give their votes to Huckabee. Romney feels he got mugged. McCain won the four biggest prizes of the day, the populous states of California, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois. He also took Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Arizona,, Oklahoma and Missouri. It you plot the results on a map, Huckabee won the Old South, Romney the plains and Mountain West, and McCain the heavily populated more mainstream states in between.

In terms of delegates, it is too early to make a final count. CNN gives McCain about 680, putting him well ahead of Romney (270), Huckabee (176), and Paul (16). These figures (and those listed below for the Democrats) are still being revised as I write, and the final results will be somewhat different. However, the relative standing of the candidates will not change. McCain certainly looks like the winner, but even he has only about half the delegates needed. Huckabee and Romney insist that they are still in the race. Conceivably each of them hopes that McCain will not be able to sustain this campaign marathon. They would never say it directly, but a front-runner over 70 is vulnerable should any questions arise about his stamina, his heart, or any aspect of his physical condition. Huckabee makes a point of jogging in full view of the press, and Romney radiates good health. In short, McCain will probably win, but he needs to look vibrant and energetic. Apparently, he still has to fight for another month or so.

On the Democratic side, Obama can claim 14 states versus only 8 for Clinton. He can also point to impressive victories in states with virtually no African-American population: Alaska, Idaho, Minnesota, and North Dakota. Recall any African Americans in the film Fargo? A few weeks ago it would have seemed madness to think that a Black candidate could win in these places, but in each case he won by a landslide over Clinton. Obama received an astonishing 80% of the votes in Idaho, more than 70% in Alaska, and more than 60% in Minnesota and North Dakota. Obama also triumphed in Georgia and Alabama, receiving not just the Black vote but a sizable while vote as well, showing that the victory in neighboring South Carolina was no fluke. In Georgia, Obama had more than twice as many votes as Hillary. In addition to the South, Obama can claim victories in all parts of the nation, including New Mexico, Colorado, and Idaho in the West; Kansas, Illinois, and Missouri in the Midwestern heartland; and Connecticut and Delaware in the East. It was an impressive showing. His campaign staff did an excellent job in a complicated contest.

Hillary can also claim victory, even if she won fewer states, and even though she won them by smaller margins. She will get the most delegates because she took the two biggest prizes: her home state of New York and the most populous US state of all, California. Her two areas of strength were the Northeast and a clutch of states in the upper South, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, where Bill was governor. 

In terms of delegates, the precise results will not be worked out until 7 February at the earliest. But as of 5:30 PM (EST) on Wednesday, CNN estimates that Clinton has won 625 at the ballot box, plus 193 super delegates, and that Obama has won 624 delegates, plus 106 super delegates. There are still more than 100 delegates to be awarded, but the fact it is taking so long strongly suggests that they will be divided up pretty equally. Neither will be close to the 2025 needed to win the nomination. Note, too, that there are 75 uncommitted and some also remain formally committed to John Edwards. If the race stays tight, these votes, along with the other super delegates will become crucial.

Strategically, Obama's showing tells party professionals that he has the best chance to win against McCain in November. Hillary won states that the Democrats usually win, notably Massachusetts and New York. However, she showed little strength in the marginal states that must be won to beat the Republicans, such as New Mexico and Colorado. Bush and Cheney triumphed by carrying the South and West, and Obama poses a stronger challenge to the GOP in these areas than she does. The more analytical Democratic managers will read Super Tuesday as proof that Obama can threaten McCain in all areas of the nation, while Hillary is strongest in the areas of their traditional strength. If he is nominated, Obama can no doubt carry traditional Democratic strongholds such as California, New York, and Massachusetts, where Hillary won, but where he also did respectably. If Hillary is the nominee, however, she has less chance than he does of winning the swing states. That matters.

Obama challenges the Republicans in those swing states and even in places they long have taken for granted, like Alaska and Idaho. He has the potential to lead a landslide, fundamentally changing the contours of the Congress. In contrast, Clinton has the potential to win a hard fought, close contest. He is more likely to lead a fundamental change. She can bring a shift in power, but it would likely be a narrow triumph, bitterly won, that could only lead to more partisanship.

To see what such a close struggle might be like, no need to wait. Hillary and Obama will continue to battle for at least another month, probably more.

For an overview of future primaries, see Blog for 3 Feb.